For anyone who may have needed a refresher on her career, Darlene Love had them covered before Wednesday’s show at the INB Performing Arts Center, part of her “Love for the Holidays” tour.
As the lights dimmed, a video showing career highlights began to play.
The video was no more than two or three minutes, but it could have been much longer.
In the beginning of her career, Love was a member of ’60s girl group the Blossoms, worked with producer Phil Spector and sang with the likes of Elvis Presley, Sonny and Cher, and Dionne Warwick.
More recently, she was featured in the 2013 Academy Award- and Grammy award-winning documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” which chronicled the lives of backup singers, wrapped up a 29-year tradition of performing her hit “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s show, earning her the nickname “Christmas Queen,” released a solo album called “Introducing Darlene Love” and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bette Midler.
“She’s a one woman wall of sound,” Bruce Springsteen is shown saying before bringing Love out to sing with him.
As the video ended, from off stage, Love began singing “Joy to the World.”
After about the first verse, she stepped onstage. Together Love, her band and backup singers built the carol into something of a gospel song, calling back to Love’s early days of singing in church.
Next up was “Marshmallow World,” one of four songs Love sang on 1963’s “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.”
She then took a minute to speak with the audience, welcoming them to the show and telling them about working with E Street Band musician Steven Van Zandt on “Introducing Darlene Love.” She said she was going to perform songs from the album as well as a few classics.
“Hopefully the ones we pick are one of your favorites,” she said. “If it is, you have my permission to sing out loud. I just want my audience to have a good time.”
The crowd couldn’t hold a note exactly like Love, who made it look as easy as taking a breath, but they sure gave their all throughout the night.
Love then sang “Among the Believers” and the Elvis Costello-penned “Forbidden Nights,” both from “Introducing.”
Taking it back to those aforementioned classics, Love performed “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” which she said was supposed to be her first single but was instead released as a song by the Crystals.
But Love eventually got her due.
After finishing the song, she told the audience “You know the best thing about having a song under my name? I get royalties today.”
She then brought her trio of backup singers, Keesha Gumbs, Ula Hedwig and Milton Vann, to center stage to perform “Painkiller,” another tune from “Introducing,” with her.
Prefacing “He’s a Rebel,” Love told a story about her early days with Spector. She recorded the song in 1962, content with the fact that it was going to be released under another artist’s name.
“I didn’t like the song,” she said. “I said it wasn’t going to sell one copy. In one month, it was a number one song. It sold 3 million copies.
After a pause, she added “I get royalties off this one too.”
Love then talked about her experience performing with Presley (the pair bonded over their love of gospel music) and performed the gospel medley she sang for his “ ’68 Comeback Special” – “Where Could I Go But to the Lord,” “Up Above My Head” and “Saved.”
Earlier this year, she performed the same medley at the European Elvis Festival in Bad Nauheim, Germany.
“You know you’re a monster when 10,000 people are there to see you and you’re not even there…,” Love said with a laugh. “I’m so happy to be one of the people who knew Elvis.”
Before closing the first half of the show with “All Alone on Christmas,” which she recorded for “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” she shared a bit of her history with Van Zandt, who wrote the song.
During a period of time when she was performing in small clubs in Los Angeles while also making money as a maid, Van Zandt persuaded Love to return to music full time, promising her that he would get her work if she moved to New York. He made good on that promise and booked her shows at the Bottom Line and the Peppermint Lounge.
After intermission, Love’s music director Ray Sabatello introduced the talented band – Micah Snow (keyboard), Tom McGinley (tenor saxophone), Ron Krasinski (drums), Mark Clark (bass) and Dale Herr (keyboard/guitar) – and the backup singers.
The musicians and singers played well off each other and Love, making for a lot of fun moments throughout the show.
Gumbs, Hedwig and Vann then returned to center stage.
“Has anyone seen ‘20 Feet From Stardom’?” Vann asked the audience. “Where background singers come into the foreground?”
The trio then performed a beautiful rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” before Vann took the lead on a powerful cover of “O Holy Night.”
“I just love to share my stage with talent,” Love said once she returned to the stage. “I sang backup for Cher, Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones. They all gave me a spot in their show. They didn’t have to but they did because they wanted to show us off. You should show off talent.”
While giving Vann a “few minutes to rest up,” Love plugged upcoming performances on “The View” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and an appearance in the PBS special by Australian doo-wop act Human Nature.
Then it was back to the classics, both holiday (“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland”) and Darlene (a medley of “Wait ‘til My Bobby Gets Home” and “Da Doo Ron Ron”).
“One question I always get asked is ‘Don’t you get tired of singing those songs?’ ” Love said. “Why would I get tired of singing the songs my fans love to hear?”
Love and her trio of background singers then gave a truly breathtaking performance of “Marvelous,” a gospel song from “Introducing Darlene Love.”
With that, there was only song Love had left to sing, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” But before she did, she told the audience how it came to be so closely tied to her name.
She was performing the song as part of the Tony Award-nominated jukebox musical “Leader of the Pack” in which Paul Shaffer, the then-music director and band leader on “Late Night with David Letterman,” was portraying Spector.
Shaffer invited Letterman to see the show, and he dubbed it the best Christmas song he’d ever heard. He invited Love onto his show to perform the song every year after that for the next 29 years.
Love told the crowd she hoped someone would keep the yearly tradition going, then revealed that “The View” had picked up where Letterman left off.
Looks like the Christmas Queen’s reign will last a little while longer.
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